We explore the exciting world of the roller-skating community in Mumbai in light of India’s refreshing victory at the recently-concluded Asian Games
Skaters Mishti Vora with Arjun Nichani
India’s roller-skating teams recently claimed two bronze medals in the 3,000m team relay events (men and women) at the 19th Asian Games in Guangzhou, and they are now rolling into the spotlight. While these athletes establish their presence through accomplishments at an international level, a tight-knit roller-skating community here in Mumbai is gaining momentum like never before. What was once considered a recreational activity in the city, is now rapidly growing to become the preferred competitive track sport among the youth. The question now arises: Is this newfound attention just a phase? Could the buzz around the sport pave the way for opportunities for aspiring young athletes? And most importantly, has the news sparked a renewed interest in the roller-skating community?
Skating instructor Ajay Shivlani briefs his students in between sessions
“I have had the privilege of witnessing the dedication and relentless efforts of some of India’s speed skaters first-hand. These athletes have been on a journey of unwavering commitment for years. Winning on such a prestigious international stage is not just a medal, but a catalyst for the sport of skating,” asserts skating instructor Ajay Shivlani, from the side-lines of the skating track at the Somaiya Sports Academy in Sion. Shivlani is an international skating examiner and director at The Skating Academy (TSA), which he founded in 2015 to provide world-class training to young skaters at the right age. Conducting training sessions across Bandra, Khar and this venue, the academy is flocked by enthusiasts and medal-aspirants alike. Shivlani provides training to individuals ranging from three-year-old kids to 63-year-old seniors. This was evident when this writer watched from the side-lines as five-year-old skaters zoomed past in continuous laps.
Skaters gather for a post-training rendezvous. Pics/Ashish Raje
Neelotpal Roy, an entrepreneur who built Radical Skating, a skating academy catering to suburbanites, believes that five is the right age to begin pursuing the sport. “It is far easier to learn the skill of balancing while maintaining speed. Once you learn the ropes at such a young age, it’s smoother to learn advanced skills without risking injuries by the time you’re in your teens.” But don’t lose hope if you’re no longer in your sweet teens; the unanimous view in the community is that while competitive training requires methodical training from a young age, there is no age restriction to joining the community if you just want to try your hand (and feet) at the sport. “Absolutely, anyone can learn to skate, and it’s a low-risk outdoor activity. With the right trainer, you shouldn’t have problems skating even at the age of 50!” assures Shivlani.
Pursuing the sport, however, hasn’t been an easy journey for the city’s enthusiasts. Shivlani recalls, “Growing up in Mumbai, roller-skating was considered nothing more than a hobby. It was only in the late 1990s that it started taking the form and shape we see it in today.” According to Shivlani, that was still only a half-done job. “Dedicated spaces for roller-skating were unheard of. We were forced to skate on the streets, which would often lead to run-ins with the police and other authorities.” Even today, Mumbai hosts only two professional skating tracks for the rapidly growing community, one at the Somaiya Sports Academy and another in Virar. Still not enough, thinks Roy, who highlights that it’s a challenge to train the growing number of roller skaters with just two tracks in the region. “We can train students in smaller areas like halls and repurposed tennis courts, but real speed training comes from practising on real skating tracks.”
Arjun Nichani, 32, debuted at the National Roller-Skating Championship in 2021 in the master’s men category and bagged a silver the following year, becoming the first Mumbaikar to achieve this feat. An architect by profession, Nichani informed us that the lack of tracks could be because of Mumbai’s infamous space crunch. He explains, “Mumbai is a goldmine for real estate and people don’t want to lend spaces for activities such as ours. Some gated communities build skate parks but they’re exclusively for their residents.”
Shivlani believes there’s much more at play. “Mumbai is an expensive city, and many builders don’t consider building a facility solely for roller-skating the best investment.” He is hopeful that concerned authorities won’t look at the prospect as an investment but as a step towards a better equipped city that will breed new champions in the future.
Arjun Nichani and Khushi Shah
On the brighter side, Mumbai is already home to a number of promising prospects. Mishti Vora, 14, who has already made a mark for herself in the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations (CISCE) Nationals in 2022, holds the promise of an even greater success in the future, according to Shivlani. “When the news of the medals came in, I knew I wanted to be there one day. The athletes who achieved the feat are my role models,” added an enthusiastic Mishti. Khushi Shah, 20, who ranked 20th in the world at the 2021 World Championships held in Colombia, told us that she’s hopeful that more skating tracks will be built in Mumbai soon, and that she plans to continue pursuing the sport and reach new highs. Nichani, Vora and Shah are all registered with the Somaiya Sports Academy where Shivlani trains budding talents. A hopeful but cautiously pragmatic Shivlani says, “Winning might be the spark, but it’s the consistent effort and investment that will fuel this surge into a thrilling future for Mumbai.”
Medals and glory
Arnav Tripathy, 17, is the reigning junior gold medallist, and is ranked as the National No. 1 in the 200 metres Time Trial and Team Relay — the same event where India secured two bronze medals at the recent Asiad. Currently, he is intensively preparing for the Senior National Championships and the upcoming World Championships. “The recent achievements have ignited my ambition and determination to represent India and contribute to winning medals and bring pride to my country.”